Former New York Times editor and Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Lelyveld with Indian journalist M.J. Akbar during Jaipur Literature Festival on Jan. 21, 2012, in Jaipur, in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, India. Manish Swarup/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Joseph Lelyveld, a career journalist who rose from copy boy to foreign correspondent to executive editor at The New York Times and won a Pulitzer Prize for a nonfiction book, died Friday. He was 86.

Lelyveld passed away at his Manhattan home due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, Janny Scott, his longtime partner and a former Times reporter, told the newspaper.

“Cerebral and introspective, Mr. Lelyveld was for nearly four decades one of the most respected journalists in America, a globe-trotting adventurer who reported from Washington, Congo, India, Hong Kong, Johannesburg and London, winning acclaim for his prolific and perceptive articles,” the Times reported in a story about his death.

Lelyveld was hired by the Times as a copy boy in 1962 and went on to hold a number of reporting posts. He was executive editor from 1994 to 2001, retiring a week before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

During his tenure in that post, “The Times climbed to record levels of revenue and profits, expanded its national and international readerships, introduced color photographs to the front page, created new sections, and ushered in the digital age with a Times website and round-the-clock news operations,” the paper said.

Lelyveld oversaw the paper as it covered major stories from the Oklahoma City bombing and the O.J. Simpson trial to the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandals and the 2000 presidential election won by George W. Bush.


The Times won several Pulitzers under his watch, and he himself won a Pulitzer in 1996 for his nonfiction book “Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White.”

Lelyveld retired in 2001 but returned two years later to serve briefly as interim executive editor after the resignations of Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd in the wake of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal.

Current and former staffers took to social media to praise Lelyveld on Friday.

“He gently guided my Times career and ensured that I had the best care when I was quite ill. I am forever indebted to this great journalist and even better man. Deep respect,” senior writer Dan Barry posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Lelyveld was born in Cincinnati in 1937 and lived in several places before settling with his family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He was the oldest of three sons of Arthur Lelyveld, a rabbi and civil rights activist, and Toby Lelyveld, a former actress and Shakespeare scholar, the Times reported.

He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and Harvard, where he earned a bachelor’s in English literature and history and a master’s in American history, according to the Times. He would later earn a master’s in journalism from Columbia.

In his 2005 memoir, “Omaha Blues: A Memory Loop,” Lelyveld said he had a knack for remembering names and other information.

“It came in handy telling the stories of others, which is what I eventually did for a living,” he wrote. “I could recall obscure facts, make intuitive connections, ask the right questions.”
Lelyveld is survived by Scott, two daughters from his marriage to Carolyn Fox, who died in 2004, and a granddaughter.

He was the father of the Portland Press Herald’s managing editor, Nita Lelyveld.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.